After four days of cooking burgers, barbecue, and chicken on six top-rated grills—and weeks of researching the dozens available—we’ve decided that the Weber Spirit E-310 Gas Grill is our pick as the best gas grill for most people. No grill out there matches its combination of exceptional performance, usability, durability, and value.
The Spirit E-310 excelled at every test we ran it through, producing the juiciest, most perfectly cooked hamburgers of any grill we tested, and outdoing or equalling the others on barbecue chicken and whole roasted chickens. Its overall compact size suits almost any patio or deck, but its grilling surface is big enough to cook a complete meal (meat or fish and a couple of veggies) for a family, or a dozen burgers for a party. With a thick, rustproof cast-aluminum firebox, it’ll last for years. And Weber has refined the Spirit’s design for decades; as a result, it’s a particularly easy grill to assemble, maintain, and use. Finally, at $500 currently, it’s a terrific value.
If you need a bit more room on your grill, or if you particularly value maximum convenience, consider our upgrade pick, the Weber Genesis II E-310 Gas Grill. Though it’s just 3 inches wider than the Spirit E-310 overall, it offers 20 percent more grilling area. And we love a couple of its unique design features: The externally mounted propane tank is easier to install and replace than traditional under-grill tanks, and it also frees up the area under the grill for storage of tools and other items. We didn’t notice a significant upgrade in performance from the newly designed burners, but that’s okay—this grill is an exceptional performer, period.
If you’re just looking for a cheap grill (say, for a DIY wedding or a beach vacation), we like the Dyna-Glo Smart Space Living 3-Burner LP Gas Grill. For a little over $200, you get a reasonably sturdy, reasonably easy-to-assemble grill that works surprisingly well—and a lot better than many competitors in its price range. It won’t last more than a year or two: Like all grills of its type, it’s made of thin steel that will quickly rust out. But if that short lifespan is all you need, the Dyna-Glo offers a good combination of performance and cost.
Why you should trust us
Before opening the valve on a single propane tank, we spoke with more than a dozen experts.
Joe Salvaggio of Big Apple BBQ spent two hours explaining the fundamentals of gas-grill design, function, materials, and maintenance. Joe and his brother Tony have run Big Apple BBQ, one of the New York region’s leading grill shops, for 30 years. The store carries grills from multiple manufacturers, ranging from $400 backyard portables to five-figure custom built-ins. Because Salvaggio is an independent retailer, he was able to speak freely about what he saw as the relative strengths and weaknesses of various designs.
At the 2017 Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Expo (in Atlanta, early March), we interviewed senior product managers from almost every major grill maker in attendance, including all the brands that wound up featuring in our test: Weber, Broil King, and Napoleon. We spoke with multiple high-end makers, too, as they predominate at HPBE. Though we wouldn’t be testing their stuff, knowing what goes into making a $4,000 grill helped us evaluate the less-expensive grills in our test.
We backed this reporting up with comprehensive research—the in-depth, professional reviews at AmazingRibs.com being a standout source—and hands-on time with grills at the big hardware chains.
We then tested six grills ourselves. Our tests were designed and run by Sweethome writer Lesley Stockton, who has a decade of experience in professional kitchens, many of them spent on the grill station. Sam Sifton, food editor of The New York Times (parent company of The Wirecutter and The Sweethome), joined in the testing and added his extensive knowledge.
Gas or charcoal?
If you’re buying a grill, your first decision is which type of fuel: charcoal or gas.
Gas grills offer three big benefits:
- Control: Adjusting the heat is a simple matter of turning the burner knobs, so you can easily prevent burning or undercooking, as well as create different heat zones by shutting down one or more burner (handy for indirect grilling). You can do the same with charcoal, too, but it takes work—you need to move the coals around and adjust the vents.
- Convenience: Gas grills turn on with the press of a button and heat up fast. Charcoal grills require 20 minutes or so to light the coals and another 10 minutes or so to allow the grates to heat up.
- Cleanliness: Gas grills don’t generate much smoke and don’t produce ash or embers the way charcoal grills do, so cleanup is simple—you just have to brush and wipe the grates and empty the grease trap after you’re done cooking.
That said, charcoal grills have several upsides. Charcoal burns hotter than gas, so you can get a superior sear on burgers and steaks. You can buy an exceptional, do-everything charcoal grill for $150; gas grills start at around $200, and you’ll spend at least twice that on a really good one. Lastly, there’s the romance factor: For some people, it’s more fun to play with fire than to twiddle a few knobs.
On balance, gas is probably the better choice if you favor no-fuss cooking or grill often (and especially if you grill on weeknights, when time is at a premium). If you’re an occasional griller or you enjoy getting hands-on with your cooking, charcoal is an economical choice that, with a bit of practice, produces great results.
How we picked
We had three firm criteria that our main contenders had to meet:
- Three burners: Three-burner grills are compact but big enough to cook a complete family dinner (say, chicken breasts on one burner, corn on the cob on another, and another vegetable on the third), or a bunch of burgers or brats for a party. And three burners give you a lot of versatility in your cooking technique: You can sear, slow-cook, do indirect cooking, and even smoke large cuts of meat. Two-burner grills save a little space and a little money but lack that versatility, and in our experience, they feel cramped. Grills with four or more burners are generally more than most people need. But if you know you need either fewer or more than three burners, most manufacturers’ lines, including our top pick and upgrade, come in two-, three-, four-, and six-burner versions (and are priced lower or higher accordingly).
- Cast-aluminum firebox: Based on advice from Joe Salvaggio of Big Apple BBQ and multiple grill makers, we insisted that our main contenders have a cast-aluminum firebox, the lower half of the grill body, where the burners and grates are mounted. Cast aluminum is rustproof and highly durable (offering a decade or more of service), and it holds and reflects heat well. Even many high-end grills use it. By contrast, budget-priced grills usually have fireboxes made of thin, painted or porcelain-coated carbon steel. Such models are notoriously rust-prone, don’t last long, and don’t hold or reflect heat efficiently.
- A price of $400 to $700: As Salvaggio explained, and as our hands-on time confirmed, this price range is something of a sweet spot. For this amount, you can get a great grill that meets our other criteria, without overpaying for seldom-used add-ons (such as rotisseries, side burners, and infrared burners), unneeded capacity, or deluxe materials. Even so, we also looked at budget-priced options (around $200). Again, because budget models are generally made of thin steel, they don’t offer near the durability and functionality of our main contenders—but then again, not everybody needs a grill designed to last for a decade or more.
Finally, we restricted our search to grills that burn propane from refillable tanks, the most common fuel by far, but you should note that most grills can also run on natural gas—though converting to natural gas isn’t cheap or simple.
We didn’t fret much over two other factors that grill makers spend a lot of time talking about.
First, the total Btu count (British thermal units, a measure of maximum heat output over the course of an hour) on three-burner grills tends to vary between 30,000 and 40,000, and the industry is making a strong push toward “more is better.” But our research and reporting convinced us that whether those Btus were applied efficiently, steadily, and evenly across the grates was at least as important as the total output. We decided to reserve judgment until our tests.
Second, grates come in a range of materials: thin wire (usually nickel-plated or stainless steel, less commonly aluminum), plain cast iron, porcelain-coated cast iron (more rust resistant), and massive, welded stainless-steel rods (as thick as a stick of chalk, or even a thumb). Manufacturers push the “heavier is better” line, but we found a lot of debate among professionals. A strong contingent among the pro reviewers at AmazingRibs.com, for example, favors the cheap, thin wires, because they expose more meat to the searing heat of the flames. Joe Salvaggio likes porcelainized cast iron because in his opinion it holds and delivers heat better than the even heavier stainless rods on his top-end wares. Porcelainized cast iron is now predominant on grills ranging from $300 to over $1,000—we noted that all our eventual contenders featured it—so we didn’t have much choice available to us, anyway.
We knew we would be looking at intangibles, too, such as how well the grills were packed, whether the instructions were clear, and whether assembly was reasonably straightforward. And, of course, we would consider the biggest intangible of all: the grills’ ability to perform in our tests.
But those judgments would have to wait until we got our hands on the contenders. So after weeks of research, reporting, and discussion, we settled on four gas grills to test in our main $400 to $700 category, and two grills around the $200 mark to test as budget options.
How we tested
Over the course of four days, we put our gas grills through a battery of tests designed to demonstrate their qualities and highlight their differences. We cooked burgers on high heat to see how well they seared meat and how even and intense a heat they could generate across the whole grate surface. We slow-grilled cut-up chickens to see if the grills could hold a low temperature evenly across the whole grate. And we roasted whole chickens indirectly on both low and high heat to see if they could create browned skin and perfectly cook meat without charring. Sam Sifton, editor of the Cooking section of The New York Times (parent company of The Wirecutter and The Sweethome) joined us for these tests.
For the low-and-slow, whole-grate test—an indicator of the grills’ ability to maintain a uniform, moderate heat for foods that need a long, gentle cook—we brought the grills up to 375 degrees Fahrenheit on medium heat with the lids closed. We then oiled the grates and distributed a whole cut-up chicken—two each of breasts, thighs, drumsticks, and wings—skin side down. We then closed the lids for 45 minutes, occasionally checking for charring and redistributing the pieces as necessary (ideally, it wouldn’t be necessary at all). As the chicken cooked we monitored the grills’ temperatures according to their built-in thermometers; the goal was a steady hold at 375 °F with little or no burner adjustment. After 45 minutes, we flipped the chicken parts, slathered on a coating of barbecue sauce, and closed the lid for another five minutes. We repeated this step twice more, rounding out the cook time at an hour flat. Then we had a taste, paying special attention to the breast meat—a long cook can dry it out.
For the indirect-cooking tests—an indicator of the grills’ ability to act like an oven, a really nice feature in the hot summer months, when you don’t want to warm up your kitchen—we cooked whole chickens at two temperatures: the first chicken at 375 °F and the second at as close to 500 °F as we could get. (The 500 °F test emulates Barbara Kafka’s famous oven-roasting method; however, none of the grills got hotter than 450 °F during this test.) We brought the grills to temperature with their two outer burners lit and the middle burner unlit. Then, as usual, we oiled the grates, placed a 3- to 4-pound chicken in the dead center of the grate surface, and closed the lid. Over the course of an hour, we monitored the grills for temperature but minimized any adjustment of the burners. At the end of each hour-long test, we noted the depth and evenness of browning, and finally we did a taste test, again paying special attention to the breasts—ideally, they’d be fully cooked but still juicy.
Throughout, we also tested our “necessities,” grilling accessories such as spatulas, tongs, grill brushes, and sheet pans. We learned a lot about them (and we have a guide to what we learned), but they also helped us identify a few design strengths and flaws of the grills.
The grilling tests took two full days. In between, we spent two more days assembling the six grills (and wrestling them into and out of our test space, Sweethome writer Lesley Stockton’s Brooklyn, New York, backyard).
We assembled the six grills alone and in teams of two, to see if the former was even possible (answer: yes, when the instructions were clear and the assembly was well thought out) and whether the latter made much of a difference (answer: yes, in every case). Our testers had various levels of experience, too, so this wasn’t just a judgment among “professionals.”
Overall, the cooking tests were far more important to us; you assemble a grill only once. But poor instructions can make assembly slow, frustrating, and full of retraced steps. Same for assembly that requires lots of screws and bolts, or screws and bolts of multiple sizes. Even absent those problems, a simply bad design can make assembly needlessly difficult. And poorly finished parts can have dangerously sharp edges—sharp enough to cause a nasty cut. So we kept an eye out for all of these issues.
Finally, after all the tests were done, we performed routine maintenance by removing and replacing the propane tanks, emptying the grease traps, washing the grates, and scrubbing out the fireboxes. If you own a grill, you’ll do these fairly unpleasant—and unavoidable, but not especially difficult—jobs at least a few times a year, so a grill that makes them even a little easier is a welcome thing.
Our pick: Weber Spirit E-310
The Weber Spirit E-310 Gas Grill is the best gas grill for most people, offering an unrivaled combination of top-notch grilling performance, a versatile three-burner design, durability, and an affordable price. It excelled at every test, producing the best sear of any grill on our burgers and equalling or outdoing the others on our barbecue chicken and whole roasted chickens. Its overall compact size suits almost any patio or deck, but its grilling surface is big enough to cook a complete meal for a family, or a dozen burgers for a party. With a thick cast-aluminum firebox, it’ll last for years. (Weber warrants the firebox, lid, and burners for a decade—among the best coverage in the industry.) The company has refined the Spirit’s design for decades, too; as a result it’s a particularly easy grill to assemble, maintain, and use. Finally, at $500, it’s a terrific value.
With 425 square inches of cooking space, the Spirit E-310 can easily accommodate 12 large hamburgers, two cut-up chickens, or a large cut like brisket for smoking. Or it can cook a complete meal for five or six people—the three-burner design means you can, for instance, sear steak or fish on one side of the grill and cook vegetables on lower heat on the other. And you can cook them really well.
In our test, going up against the Weber Genesis II E-310, the Napoleon Rogue 425, and the Broil King Signet 320, the Weber Spirit E-310 produced the best deep, crusty sear on hamburgers. Despite measuring in the middle of the pack on temperature (about 650 °F after 15 minutes on high), the Spirit’s grates made the best sear marks—even better than the identical grates on the Weber Genesis II, leading us to surmise that the smaller Spirit model concentrated the burners’ heat better. We had no problems with the meat sticking to the flat, porcelain-coated iron grates. And we had no problems with flare-ups, grease fires that produce charring and acrid smoke. (All grills produce a brief burst of flame when grease drips onto the burner hoods; the problem is persistent fires.)
The Spirit E-310 also exhibited the most consistent heat across the entire cooking surface; among the competition, the Napoleon model in particular had noticeable cool spots toward the front of its grates. To a degree, all grills suffer this problem, because the burners don’t extend all the way to the front of the firebox, but the Spirit offered the most consistent heating across the entire grate surface. After 10 minutes, the burgers at the rear (the hottest part of the grill) were medium-well and those at the front were medium-rare to medium (this difference might even be handy, if your diners have various preferences). On the Napoleon grill, on the other hand, some of the front burgers were nearly raw in the center, while the rear burgers were well-done. We were surprised that the Spirit once more outperformed, if only slightly, its larger, more powerful cousin, the Weber Genesis II; again, our theory is that the Spirit’s smaller firebox reflected more heat onto the grate surface.
The Weber Spirit E-310 produced beautiful barbecue chicken, with crisped skin and caramelized sauce.
During the low-and-slow grilling of the cut-up chicken, the Spirit held almost perfectly steady at 375 °F, requiring almost no fiddling with the burner knobs—a quality it shared with the Genesis II. Both produced perfect barbecue chicken. By contrast, the Napoleon grill struggled to produce crisp, browned skin, and we soon discovered why: Its built-in thermometer was registering 50 degrees hotter than the actual temperature inside the grill. The result was flabby barbecue. The Broil King model had the opposite problem, running way too hot, as high as 450 °F, even with the burners on low. The result was charred chicken and burnt sauce.
The Spirit performed beautifully on our two indirect-cooking tests, producing perfectly cooked chickens at 375 °F and on the “full blast” test (where it held a steady 435 °F). Again, its cousin the Weber Genesis II performed almost identically. On the full-blast test, especially, the Weber models turned out something close to the Platonic ideal: deeply browned chickens with skin so crisp it puffed up like a balloon. We tested the Broil King and Napoleon models only at 375 °F, since we were already certain that one of the Webers would be our pick. Both of those competitors performed fine, but not spectacularly—we had to adjust the heat frequently to keep them near the mark, and the Napoleon ran about 20 degrees cool according to our probe thermometer, so we had to compensate for that.
In regard to assembly, of the six grills we tested, the Spirit E-310 was the simplest and had the most well-thought-out instructions. The Sweethome’s Lesley Stockton, who describes herself as “not confident with hand tools,” put it together solo in little more than an hour and never found herself confused in any way. (Actually moving the Spirit E-310, still packed in its box, to your patio will require two people or a hand truck, since its shipping weight is 130 pounds.) One thing Weber does exceptionally well: It clearly labels the little bags of bolts and other fasteners (A, B, C, and so on) and cues them to the stages of assembly, so you rarely have more than one or two bags open, and finding the right component is always easy.
As for maintenance, the Spirit’s flat grates were easy to keep clean with a grill brush, and its grease trap was easy to access for dumping and washing. The same goes for the Genesis II, whose grates are identically made but slightly larger. The other grills also have easy-access grease traps—not much to ask for, really. But we found the Napoleon model’s wavy grills hard to clean, since we couldn’t run the grill brush in long strokes.
The Spirit’s firebox cleaned up fine with some Simple Green and hot water in our tests, and because it’s aluminum, there’s no concern about rust. And as a general observation, this grill is sturdily built from the ground up: Lots of metal, little plastic, and tight tolerances add up to a stiff chassis.
Finally, routine upkeep—switching out the propane tank, replacing the igniter battery—was about as straightforward as you could ask, with all moving parts easy to access.
We haven’t long-term tested the Spirit E-310, but we have every reason to believe it will last for years and keep working flawlessly. The design hasn’t changed in several years, and many owners praise its durability. On top of that, Sweethome senior editor Harry Sawyers has owned a Spirit E-210—the otherwise identical two-burner version—for three years, and moved with it all the way from Chicago to Los Angeles. When he pulled it out from winter storage in April, it fired up on the first go. And again, Weber warrants the firebox, burners, and lid for 10 years, so the company has a financial incentive to build it to last for years, too.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
The Weber Spirit E-310’s side tables are fixed in place with bolts—they don’t fold down for storage, so you’re stuck with the full 51-inch width. Fold-downs would save only about a foot, so it’s not a huge deal, but they would be a nice option.
Weber gas grills come with a simple scale for weighing the propane tank, to give you an idea of how much fuel you have left. The Spirit E-310’s is mounted high up inside the grill cart, and we found lifting the tank onto the scale’s hook difficult; it would be impossible if the tank had the wrong sort of handle (they come in various designs, and some are too big). You may have to guess the fuel level by weighing the tank in your hands.
We wish Weber would take a cue from some competitors (including Broil King) and make the bars of its warming racks run front to back, parallel to the main grates. That way, you could easily slide a spatula under stuff that’s warming. As it is, the warming-rack bars run edge to edge, and you have to awkwardly jimmy a spatula in there sideways.
The Spirit E-310 (and every grill) should come with a grill cover. It doesn’t, nor does any grill in our test group. You’ll need to buy one separately; Weber’s dedicated Spirit cover costs about $55, and a generic version costs about $20.
Upgrade pick: Weber Genesis II E-310
The Weber Genesis II E-310 Gas Grill is also an exceptional performer, and it offers several clever, life-improving design elements that we love and that the Spirit E-310 lacks. The grates are about 20 percent bigger, too, but overall the Genesis II takes up barely more area than the Spirit, so there’s no appreciable trade-off between the two if your patio space is tight. Essentially, the decision comes down to how much you’ll use your grill: If you grill more than a couple of times a week or often cook for crowds, the Genesis II is worth the $200 jump in cost.
Performance-wise, we found the two Weber models nearly identical, with the Spirit just slightly edging the Genesis II on burger-searing performance. And that gap would probably close with a bit more time to learn the Genesis II’s finer points. In terms of materials, the two are twins, offering heavy cast-aluminum fireboxes and porcelain-coated cast-iron grates.
The Genesis II’s most obvious design upgrade over its sibling—and our favorite by far—is the externally mounted propane tank. Instead of having to wrestle the tank into and out of a cramped cabinet beneath the grill, you hang it on easily accessed mounts on the left side of the grill’s support frame. It’s such an obvious, life-improving feature that we expect it to start appearing on Weber’s other grill lines in the future (and on competitors’ grills).
Moving the tank to the outside also frees up space below the grill, which Weber fills with a generous and sturdy storage shelf. That’s a nice feature; you can keep trays, grill tools, or even a small cooler there.
The frame-rail construction is also a plus: The Genesis II was easily the stiffest, sturdiest-feeling grill we tested.
Up top, Weber says its redesigned burners deliver higher performance and more consistent edge-to-edge heating. Frankly, we didn’t notice much difference between them and the old-style Spirit burners. And Sam Sifton of The New York Times (parent company of The Wirecutter and The Sweethome), who owns a previous-generation Genesis with old-style burners, feels that the old ones work better. But we’ll reserve full judgment until we’ve had a summer’s worth of really putting them through the paces.
At 513 square inches, the Genesis II E-310’s grates offer roughly 20 percent more grilling surface versus the Spirit E-310’s 424 square inches. That bumps you up from 12 to 15 or so burgers for a big party, or it lets you cook an ambitious, complete meal for a large family. But although the Genesis II looks much larger than the Spirit, in reality the differences are not huge. The Genesis II is 3 inches wider (54 inches versus 51 inches) overall, and its grates are 25 by 19 inches versus 23 by 18 inches. And its left-side table folds down, so it’s actually a bit narrower in storage.
Note: The Genesis II line includes two subcategories: the “plain” category we tested, designated with an E before the number (as in the E-310) and an upgrade, designated with an LX in the name. The LX models, which cost about 75 percent more burner for burner (the three-burner LX model retails for $1,200, for example, versus the E-310’s $700 price tag), employ stainless steel in place of some of the powder-coated plain steel and aluminum, and have a cabinet base rather than the open design of the E models. We don’t think those features are worth the extra expense—the fireboxes are identical, and though the LX models offer about 15 percent more maximum Btu (37,500 versus 43,500) with their High+ setting, that doesn’t seem to improve performance greatly, so you’re probably paying for extraneous details. And on the face of it, we prefer the flexibility and easy access of the E line’s open cabinet. The entire Genesis II line interfaces with Weber’s iGrill 3 “smart” thermometer (a separate purchase); as with a lot of “smart” gear, however, we’re not sold on it. The ability to remotely monitor conditions is useful for 24/7 appliances like thermostats, security systems, and garage doors. For monitoring how your dinner is doing, your eyes, your experience, and a good instant-read thermometer are better tools.
We can name two exasperating flaws that we hope Weber addresses in future iterations.
First, the single most important step in the assembly—the separation and threading of the ignition wiring and the gas line—gets three separate illustrations, which causes confusion. Two of them show opposite orientations of the wiring and gas lines with respect to each other. In the third, the directions on their orientations with respect to “the grill frame” don’t make it clear that two different sections of the frame are being referred to. One of us (Tim Heffernan) is pretty handy at this sort of work, and we messed up both operations on the first go-round. Luckily, we were able to reverse those mistakes later without backtracking, but this is a weak spot in Weber’s otherwise impeccably clear instruction manual.
Second, the Genesis II’s construction evidently had a late addition: two steel rails to beef up the support for the tank. Their installation instructions come on a separate one-page sheet that’s marked only with an orange sticker—easy to overlook among all the paperwork, which we initially did.
Budget pick: Dyna-Glo Smart Space Living 3-Burner LP Gas Grill
The Dyna-Glo Smart Space Living 3-Burner LP Gas Grillwas a pleasant surprise in our cheap-grills test: We didn’t expect good performance from such an inexpensive grill, but we got it. This model achieved decent searing on our burgers and performed genuinely well on our barbecue-chicken test, producing crisp skin and no charring, despite an alarming amount of smoke pouring out from under the lid (more, by far, than we saw from other grills we tested, a real eye-stinging cloud—but also a sign that the grill hoods were doing their job and preventing flare-ups).
The Dyna-Glo did well on the high-heat whole-chicken roast, too, producing a beautifully browned bird and maintaining a steady 425 °F. Its competition, the Char-Broil Advantage, left some burgers raw and burned some chicken parts while leaving others underdone, though it too roasted a whole chicken well.
Assembly of the Dyna-Glo involves multiple fasteners, but they’re almost all the same size and type, so you don’t have to go hunting for the right one. The Char-Broil, by contrast, has screws and bolts of multiple sizes, and the instructions aren’t great at identifying which one you need. Dyna-Glo also pays attention to sharp edges, either filing them down or dulling them beneath a coat of paint (the grease tray being the only notable exception—be careful). The Char-Broil model was a minefield of sharp edges and burrs.
Neither grill’s instruction manual is up to par. Dyna-Glo’s was printed so darkly that the illustrations might as well have been 2D silhouettes, but that grill’s construction is so simple, you almost don’t need the manual. The Char-Broil grill’s design is so weird—it’s open at the back, with a solid panel instead of a door at the front, a unique and bizarre design—that a good manual is vital. Unfortunately, it has a bad, simply drawn one that leaves you guessing what part you’re supposed to be working on.
To be perfectly plain: The Dyna-Glo grill is not built to last year after year. It’s made of thin sheet steel, including the firebox, and it will rust out quickly. Compared with our top pick and our upgrade pick, it’s flimsy and crudely designed. It isn’t a lifetime investment—and it isn’t priced as such. But it works decently for what it costs, and if you need a grill only for an event or for a year or two, it’s worth a look. Keep it covered or under shelter, and you’ll get the most for your money.
Grill maintenance basics
Maintaining a grill is not hard, and doing it right can add years to the life of the grill.
First and foremost: Use a grill cover. They keep your grill dry, which helps to prevent rust, and clean, which helps to prevent clogged burner ports and gritty grates. They don’t come with most grills; you can buy a “custom-fitted” brand-specific one for $50 or $60 (Weber Spirit E-310, Weber Genesis II E-310), or a generic version for half that (this popular cover will fit all our picks). Our test grills sat through days of intense rain, and we didn’t notice a difference in performance between the two options. In winter (if you live where it snows), try to keep your grill in a garage or shed—grill covers don’t protect against standing water or extended periods of dampness.
Second, clean your grill before or after every use. Joe Salvaggio of Big Apple BBQ recommends turning the burners to high and closing the lid for 10 minutes after you’re done cooking—and then just turning them off and walking away. Next time you cook, brush the cold, soot-covered grills clean, wipe them with a wet paper towel or rag, and then proceed. That goes against the common advice, which is to clean the grates while they’re hot; Salvaggio has found that doing so more easily damages the porcelain coating on cast-iron grates, allowing rust to form.
Check the grease trap after every use (or before every use), and don’t let it get too full. If it spills over you’ll be cleaning grease out of the inside of your grill for an hour.
If a burner seems to be running cool or creates patchy flames, use a thin piece of wire (many grills come with one on a chain) to clean out the gas ports, the little holes. There’s nothing inside the burners to break, so don’t feel like you have to be delicate.
Take the battery out of the igniter before you store the grill long-term. Batteries can burst and corrode the igniter contacts.
About once a year (usually before winter storage), many grill enthusiasts do a deep clean of the whole grill, soaking the grates in hot soapy water and scrubbing them, and scrubbing down the firebox and rinsing it with a hose. That’s probably good practice.
Finally, be aware that a few parts of a grill are consumables, so you will need to replace them occasionally. The burner hoods are usually the first to go, after a couple of years (these are the metal “tents” that sit over the burners and guide grease away from the flames, preventing flare-ups). You can replace them in-kind, or find third-party options that claim higher performance and long lifespans.
The grates also take a beating, and eventually most start to rust. That’s not necessarily a problem in itself, as you can oil iron grates and season them as you would a cast-iron skillet. But if they were originally porcelain-coated (as our pick and upgrade’s are), you may get chips of porcelain in your food, and that’s not a good thing. Again, you can replace them with factory parts or third-party alternatives.
The Napoleon Rogue 425 ($600 at the time of this writing) is the Canadian company’s flagship in the $400 to $700 range. Like the other models we tested in that category, it has a cast-aluminum firebox, porcelain-coated cast-iron grates, and three burners. On paper, it has a lot going for it, but we were disappointed in its performance. Despite showing 650 °F heat on our burger test, it failed to achieve a good sear—a combination, we expect, of the pyramidal grate bars making minimal contact with the meat, and the grill’s thermometer overstating the actual temperature by about 50 degrees (we measured it independently with an accurate probe thermometer). It also struggled to hold a steady heat on the barbecue-chicken test. Napoleon’s signature is its wavy grates, and they do look cool—but they’re harder to clean than straight grates. They also leave odd, distorted sear marks if you try to make the classic crosshatch pattern. Assembly was straightforward, and we found the instruction manual well-done. But given the Weber Spirit E-310’s higher performance and lower cost, the choice was clear.
The Broil King Signet 320 is similar to the other grills we tested in the $400 to $700 category, offering a cast-aluminum firebox, porcelainized iron grates, and three burners. It boasts the highest total Btu of the four we tested in that range, at 40,000. But we found that this wasn’t an advantage: It topped 700 °F after 15 minutes of heating for the burger test, and as a result it blackened the patties. (“Tastes like a Marlboro,” said Sam Sifton.)
On the barbecue-chicken test, it ran very hot even with the burners on their lowest setting, topping 450 °F when the goal was a steady 375 °F. That meant moving the chicken around, and even to the warming rack, to try to avoid charring—whereas the key to good grilled chicken is a steady, undisturbed cook. We had a problem with the grates, too: They have a strange ridge about half an inch from the front edge, and if you’re not careful you can catch your spatula on it and send your utensil flying. Also, during assembly we ran into an unforgivable design flaw: A key pair of bolts, which hold the firebox to the frame, are located in a tight space that’s almost impossible to get your fingers or a wrench into. The caster wheels, too, absolutely refused to slide into their sockets—we slightly broke one socket when trying, and the other required a coating of soap and as much pressure as we could manage. For $100 more, the Weber Spirit E-310 offers a much better experience end to end.
The Char-Broil Advantage three-burner grill from Lowe’s met the low expectations we set upon seeing its sub-$200 price. It cooked burgers acceptably, but to get an even cook we had to shuffle the patties around from hot spots to cool spots. Unable to keep a steady low temperature, it burned the barbecue chicken. To its credit, it made a nice indirect-roasted chicken—but then again, every tested grill did. Assembly was a pain, with unclear instructions and multiple fasteners of different sizes and types. The bizarre design, with a fixed panel running across the front of the grill, means you have to sneak around the back of the thing to replace the tank. Have fun doing that if you plan to keep the grill next to a fence. If you need a cheap grill, spring the extra $20 for the Dyna-Glo.
We dismissed another popular budget-priced grill maker, Nexgrill, out of hand. Nexgrill models are mostly sold at Home Depot, and the negative reviews alone put us off, complaining of sharp edges that have sliced off fingertips and leaking fuel lines that have threatened to cause fires. Hands-on time with some Nexgrill units in the store confirmed it: They’re junk.
The budget-oriented Smoke Hollow specializes in charcoal-gas combination grills but also offers a couple of gas models. Reviews, prices, and hands-on time convinced us they didn’t have the initial quality to compete.
Hands-on time, reviews, and availability concerns led us to dismiss lesser-known brands such as Brinkmann (now called Outdoor Direct after an October 2016 bankruptcy) and Huntington, along with well-known names like Cuisinart and KitchenAid. The latter two’s grills appear to be afterthoughts next to their respective brands’ main areas of expertise, with materials and design to match; the former two’s models are generic and shoddy.
Finally, though we used them for comparison (and a sense of what’s possible in a grill, for a price), we did not test grills from high-end makers including Hestan, Lynx/Sedona, and MHP. Costing four or five figures, they were outside our criteria.
(Photos by Michael Hession.)
(TIM HEFFERNAN,LESLEY STOCKTON, MICHAEL SULLIVAN)